In the summer of 2015, Bland was found hanging in her jail cell after being arrested at a traffic stop three days prior. Her death was ultimately ruled a suicide but her family disagrees.
“Sandy could have been anyone. She epitomizes people that’s trying to do what’s right in the world,” said Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, during a media teleconference.
“Sandy wanted everyone to be treated equal. She forced the national conversation of the fundamental fairness that everyone in the world deserves. Her “Sandy Speaks” videos was doing just that — speaking on issues of social injustice. She said God placed it upon her heart to make those videos and she would make them every day. She would call out those social injustices. She would make videos, she had notes, she would go to Starbucks and sit there with fliers. She would go to the mall and hold up signs.
Needham says this is a side of her sister that “no one talks about.”
The dispute over Bland’s cause of death led to unrest in communities across the nation. And headlines were wild with all sorts of theories and crazy conspiracies about Sandra’s “suspicious” mugshot.
“The social media was a mess the first few days because people had their own assumptions and I would speak straight facts as to what had transpired and what did not transpire on who Sandy was because even Waller county and the DEA were trying to assassinate Sandy’s character,” Shante explains.
“I had to even go on to their Facebook page and get them right-together because they weren’t speaking correctly of her. I gotta make sure that I’m speaking for Sandy because Sandy not here to do that, thanks to the folks down there. Once you start speaking facts to people, most people, they’ll change the way their thought process is and the things that they’re typing on the keyboard.”
Executive produced by Academy Award winner Viola Davis, Julius Tennon (JuVee Productions), and Lemuel Plummer (L. Plummer Media) with narration by Davis, the “Two Sides” Feb. 12 episode will evaluate and present multiple points of view on the curious and disturbing arrest of Sandra Bland.
The limited docu-series premiered January 22 and examines four headline-grabbing fatal police encounters during 2014 – 2015: Eric Garner (New York), Ezell Ford (California), John Crawford (Ohio), and Sandra Bland (Texas).
“My goal with the show is to really bridge the gap between white, black and blue, and to spark conversation, not controversy. We’re not taking a biased approach. We’re hearing from all sides,” says Plummer.
“So for the first time, you’ll hear from the police officer’s perspective. You’ll also hear from the victim’s family members and the community. We want the audience to walk away understanding why these things happen and to educate folks on why police officers end up making these decisions that, unfortunately, end in a really bad situation where someone is dead. We also want police officers to understand how this affects our community and how it impacts the family members.”
“The healing process is still a work in progress,” Shante shares. “Right now, today is an okay day, at this hour, but I could have a memory or I could think about something that she and I used to do and immediately, I’ll go into a grieving state. Each day, to get up out the bed and walk, it’s a process because sometimes we look at the news and we see things that occurred in the manner our loved ones have passed away in and it triggers the emotions all over again, as if it was day one. So, I go to therapy. I’m journaling now and I’m working-out and those are some coping mechanisms that help for the most part. Each day, sometimes, feels like July 13, when I received that phone call.”
When it comes to forgiving those viewed responsible for the death of her sister, Needham says: “Well, of course, we have to forgive, if we say we’re children of God. But it’s forgetting the act that’s most troubling for me.”
Adding, “I forgive because I’m a Christian and I have to but I still wonder to this day, almost three years later, why? Why that day did they do what they did to my sister. I even went on a rampage where I wasn’t even believing in God at one point because everyone was always saying, “God makes no mistakes.” And I just got tired of hearing it. So when I got myself back together and got back on one accord with God, then at that point, I was able to forgive.”
But Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, says “I pray to God every night to forgive me because I haven’t forgiven yet.”
Carr says that since the death of her son, she believes it is now her “place to get out here and try to save other lives.”
“I wasn’t an activist before this happened. I was just an ordinary mom. I want no other mother, no other sister or brother, to suffer as we have,” she says.
“That’s why I don’t feel intimidated when I have to go to lawmakers and demand that we need laws changed. I’ve learned so much about law since my child is gone. We can try to prevent this from happening to other people and that’s why we say to other people: Don’t wait for this to happen to you. You gotta get on the bandwagon now so we can save the lives of our children.”
Carr says she prays “every night so I could forgive what happened. I can’t forgive the action but to forgive the people who caused this action. When someone takes your child away, it is so hard. Maybe in time, when justice come, then I will have a better sense of forgiveness in my heart than I do now. Because there is no justice right now. Nothing has been done to solve this problem and we have to keep on fighting and we are going to keep on fighting for justice for our people.”
Stacey Artis — a childhood friend of John Crawford’s mother— co-signs her statement.
“Let me say that I am speaking for myself only. I’m not at the forgiving point yet,” she says. “I could probably get there once justice has been done for families since it hasn’t been done for any of ours. When the killings stop, maybe then I could probably start the forgiving process but for me, I’m not there yet.”
Families that suffer similar tragedies, as time passes, often lament over who they were before the tragedy. So EUR/Electronic Urban Report asked these brave women to open up about who they were before this losing their loved one, as the world may never know this side of them.
Shante: In the very beginning, for at least about, almost a year, the dynamic of my life changed tremendously. I would sit in my room. I have four kids. I don’t want to be bothered. I would just lay down. When I was up, I was going to support other families or I was going to support my sister in speaking or my mom, whichever one needed the assistance at that time. Before this happened, I was just an ordinary person just doing what I do. Working, going to school, taking care of my kids, doing family things and now when people see me, they seem to forget that I was a person. I was my own person before my sister passed. Now I’m, “That’s Sandra Bland’s sister.”
People have me saved in their phone as “Sandra Bland’s sister,” and I’m very appreciative for the solidarity that people are sharing with us but I do want people to understand that we were people too, prior to our loved ones passing. So I don’t like when people tell you, “It’s gonna get better,” because I believe that’s not true. I believe it gets manageable. It will never be better because you’re loved one is not here with you. And I just want people to be mindful of that when they say that to people who have lost loved ones. Because again, it’s been almost three years and some days it feels like yesterday, especially on Mondays.
Gwen: My son Eric was a lover of Christmas, since he was a kid. I just looked at a picture the other day when he was 3-months-old, at Christmas, and I had him on a Santa suit and now today, Christmas doesn’t mean that much to me anymore. Because this is something that we did as a family and now that he’s not here, I can’t get my little gifts I used to get from him or give him his gifts. It took a part of me when he died because I’m not happy doing that anymore. This has affected me in a way that I don’t like it to be like that because there are other children and other grandchildren involved and I want to be happy for them. I’m getting back to doing that but right now, it’s not the same and I guess it never will be exactly the same.
Stacey: For me, being a mother of four boys, with one of my son’s and John being only two months apart, it’s nerve-wracking when they step out the door, just to go to the store. Or they step out the door to go to work or go to class. Even with my husband, I’m nervous. I told myself at the beginning of this year I gotta work on letting them live while I still fight for John. And for me, the hardest thing I’m having to do right now is letting them live and not be so protective like they’re little kids. I’m about to have a 30-year-old soon. Like Shante said, it’s manageable. It just becomes manageable. I haven’t stepped in a Walmart since John was killed and I don’t plan to step into Walmart. I don’t want to step into Walmart.
Where do you find the strength to know in your heart that your sister didn’t commit suicide?
Shante: I guess from just knowing that my sister knew God and knowing that we were going to get her out and also seeing the video with her saying, “I can’t wait to go to court.” That just lets me know that she wouldn’t have ended her life. She was a fighter. She could not wait to go to court and see Brian Encinia so that she can call out the injustice that he had done to her. So that doesn’t even sound like her to do that.
With all the news coverage and speculation and theories on social media, was there ever a doubt?
Shante: The news… they do their job but no one knows their loved ones more than their loved one. So when they were saying those things, all I could was think about was the fighter that she was. And I know that when she would have got out, and that court date would’ve came, Sandy would have been right there with her notepad and she would’ve had a description from point A-to-Z as to what transpired. She would’ve had her rights that were violated. So that gives me the strength to keep going and knowing that she didn’t do what they’re saying she did.”
The women hope the “Two Sides” series move viewers to “want to be involved with taking action.”
“When you see an injustice, speak up and do something about it and stop letting it go under the rug,” Needham says. “Speak on it and let’s unite and do something about this social injustice so that our grandkids, our kids, their grandkids and so on don’t have to come up in a manner in which some of our loved ones have.”
The finale episode of “Two Sides” airs Feb. 12 on TV One at 10/9c. Get caught up on the series via the TV One app.